- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

LANSDALE, Pa. (AP) - As far as Frank Larkin is concerned, robots and kids are made for each other.

That’s why Larkin, a principal engineer for Comcast Corp.’s national engineering team, has spent 17 years helping children make robots.

“I saw what a change it made” in his own four children, said Larkin, 59. “And I see what it does for (other) kids. Some of them came in here and had no idea what they wanted to do.”

Now he sees a bunch of budding engineers.


“The whole idea is to demystify engineering,” Larkin said. “If the kids are afraid of it, what are you going to do?”

Larkin does all this at Lansdale Catholic High School with 25 students on his robotics team. They compete in the annual FIRST robotics competition, and this year’s national championships are set for April 23 to 26 in St. Louis.

Before teams reach that level, however, they must pass through regional competitions and collect enough money to pay their way.

Lansdale Catholic, along with teams from many other area high schools, is set to compete at Hatboro-Horsham High School in the Mid-Atlantic Region district opener on March 1 and 2, then at Seneca High School in Tabernacle on March 22 and 23. Then it’s on to the Mid-Atlantic Region championship, of which Larkin is chairman, at Lehigh University’s Stabler Arena on April 10 to 12.

Lansdale Catholic, which will pay $5,000 to compete in the Mid-Atlantic meets, will not attend the nationals in St. Louis this year, Larkin said, “because we just don’t have the money.”

“We should have won this one, but we got robbed,” Larkin said last week while watching a video from a 2008 competition. “It’s all right, though. I’m not bitter.”

Lansdale Catholic has had its share of winners. It has won seven awards, including regional awards in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2007.

“You get to do different stuff and learn different stuff every year,” said senior Stephen Digregoria, a three-year veteran of the team.

FUNDING THE FUTURE

FIRST (for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”) was founded in 1989 and is based in Manchester, N.H. A not-for-profit public charity, it is supported, it says, by a network of 3,500 corporate, educational, institutional, and individual sponsors and more than 130,000 volunteers.

Through a series of four creative engineering competitions for preschoolers - using Legos to build stuff - through high school seniors, FIRST reports that it has helped create more than $19 million in college scholarships for 2014 through nearly 900 scholarships from more than 150 scholarship providers.

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